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Irish Look Unsightly in Green

Wearing "lucky" jerseys for first time at home since 1985, Notre Dame loses three fumbles, suffers first loss of year, 14-7, to Boston College.

November 03, 2002|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — We may never fully understand why Notre Dame, smack-dab in a national title race with the 107th-rated offense, thought Saturday was the right day to break out the "lucky" green jerseys at home for the first time since 1985.

As if this season hadn't been magical enough? The Irish wanted more luck?

These and other questions would be asked in the wake of Boston College's 14-7 upset of No. 4 Notre Dame before a record 80,935 at Notre Dame Stadium.

The defeat dropped the Irish to 8-1 and might have wrecked their national title hopes. Boston College improved to 5-3 while ending a 23-game, regular-season losing streak against ranked opponents.

The jerseys?

"I thought it was a great time," Irish Coach Tyrone Willingham said of the unveiling.

Judging from the way the Irish handled the ball, fumbling seven times and losing three, it appeared someone greased the green jerseys with slime.

Surely, Irish players were well versed in Boston College's history of being giant killers. Let's see, there was Doug Flutie's pass to beat Miami in 1984 and, closer to home, a 41-39 victory over No. 1 Notre Dame in 1993, the week after the Irish upset Florida State.

Based on the morning line and the number of people who thought the Eagles had a chance, maybe Boston College should have worn green.

In any case, Notre Dame's plan backfired, and it all started in the backfield.

"Actually, I thought our kids were excited when they saw the green jerseys," Boston College Coach Tom O'Brien said.

In the midst of a season in which virtually nothing has gone wrong, Notre Dame somehow found a way to motivate its opponent, the Eagles, who borrowed the script the Irish have used all year to scrape out victories.

Boston College used two Irish turnovers to build a 14-0 lead and then withstood Notre Dame's last-gasp effort to keep its perfect season.

The bobble-fest started in the first quarter, when Notre Dame quarterback Carlyle Holiday botched a handoff exchange with Ryan Grant and Boston College's Josh Ott jumped on the fumble at the Irish 38. Six plays later, the Eagles landed in the end zone on Derrick Knight's three-yard scoring run, the lead holding at 6-0 when the extra point was missed.

In the second quarter, with Holiday temporarily out of the game with a slight head injury, backup quarterback Pat Dillingham, under pressure, flipped an ill-advised back-handed pass that Ott picked out of the air and returned 71 yards for a touchdown.

Brian St. Pierre's pass to Sean Ryan on the two-point attempt made it 14-0.

What luck came with those green jerseys?

Notre Dame dominated most of the game, outgaining Boston College in total yards, 357-184, but committed five turnovers and even got robbed when an official incorrectly ruled Irish receiver Omar Jenkins out of bounds in the end zone on an apparent second-quarter scoring pass.

"Honestly, I don't know why they didn't call it a touchdown," Jenkins said. "I had it in control."

That opportunity lost, Notre Dame spent the rest of the game handling the ball as if it were a bar of soap. Most of the seven fumbles were unforced errors, the cough-ups coming either on a bad exchange or, in the case of one Grant fumble, the ball just falling out of his arms as he approached the line of scrimmage.

"It just goes on the ground over and over and over again," Notre Dame receiver Arnaz Battle said of the bouncing ball.

Asked what went wrong, Battle said, "I can't put my finger on it."

The real problem with the ball was Irish players couldn't keep five fingers on it.

Still, Battle said, "There wasn't one point in the game I didn't think we couldn't win."

And darn if Notre Dame didn't make it interesting in the end. The Irish finally scored a touchdown that counted with 2:25 left, when Holiday scrambled out of the pocket and threw a scoring strike to Maurice Stoval in the corner of the end zone.

Notre Dame trailed, 14-7, and had two timeouts left, so Willingham decided against an on-side kick in the hope his defense could hold.

It seemed a good bet, but it didn't work.

With 2:16 left, Boston College situated at its own 28, and everyone in the stadium knowing the Eagles were going to run the ball and force the Irish to burn their last two timeouts, Knight rushed for four and nine yards in two carries to get a first down.

It was, perhaps, the first time this season the Notre Dame defense did not come up big when needed.

"Everyone built them up to be everything in the world," Knight, who finished with 133 yards in 26 carries, said of the Irish. "But I looked at the tape, and those were the same guys we beat three out of the last four years."

Boston College pushed the ball to midfield before finally having to punt, pinning the Irish on their own 23 with 12 seconds left.

Two incompletions later, Notre Dame's perfect season had ended.

"I'm hurt, I'm disappointed, because I felt it didn't have to happen," Willingham said of his first defeat suffered as Notre Dame coach. "But that's competition, that's athletics."

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